Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have announced the finalists for its 2014-15 Teacher of the Year award.
The seven nominees were selected first by their schools, and then by the larger geographic learning community.
The winner will be announced May 22.
Brad Baker, North Learning Community
Baker teaches 10th-grade civics and economics at William A. Hough High School in Cornelius. Principal Laura Rosenbach said Baker’s selection from more than 100 teachers speaks highly of him, especially since it’s his first year teaching at Hough.
Baker has been an educator since 2002 and began his career in Gaston County. He obtained his bachelor’s in communications and marketing from Appalachian State University and his master’s degree in comprehensive social studies from UNC Charlotte. Baker is also a member of the Charlotte Teacher’s Institute.
Baker, who lives in the Lake Norman area, came to Hough from Providence, Rosenbach said. Baker teaches in a way that “makes the abstract relevant and interesting for students,” Rosenbach said, citing a student project that applies “directly to real life.”
“The kids have to come up with a budget, find housing, pay taxes. … Kids and parents love it,” she said. “Kids understand what it’s like to have a real-life example.
“(Baker) is one of the many teachers in the news these days having an impact on kids,” Rosenbach said. “He deserves any recognition he gets.”
Willie Brooks, Northeast Learning Community
Willie Brooks teaches seventh- and eighth-grade language arts at James Martin Middle School in University City.
Principal Jeremy Batchelor called Brooks a veteran educator who has assumed a leadership role. “He’s mentoring younger teachers while maintaining really high standards in his classroom.”
Brooks got his English degree from UNC Chapel Hill and began teaching in 2001. He’s also a member of James Martin’s English as a Second Language program.
In addition to engaging class discussions and motivating students to read, Brooks also helps coach two sports, Batchelor said.
“He does a great job preparing our eighth-grade students to move on. … He’s an overall good guy to have on your team.”
Deanna Chinault, South Learning Community
Deanna Chinault is a science lab teacher in kindergarten through fifth grade at Endhaven Elementary School in the south Charlotte/Ballantyne area. Principal Brian Slattery called Chinault “a tremendous resource,” extending herself beyond what’s required in the classroom.
Chinault has a bachelor’s in education from Radford University and a master’s from the University of Houston. She’s worked for CMS since 2002 and is involved in a number of professional groups such as the National Council of Mathematics and the National Science Teacher Association, among others, Slattery said.
“She’s definitely involved in a lot of professional development and brings that back to staff,” he said. “She’s about that collaboration piece. She’s definitely a leader among teachers, particularly with the science curriculum.”
She heads several after-school clubs, including the Science Olympiad Team and Girls Excelling in Math and Science Club, Slattery said.
Chinault also facilitates “Science Wednesdays” during the school’s televised afternoon announcements. The segment features student presentations on a science-related topic that they’ve researched, Slattery said. The optional program is so popular it has a waiting list.
“She is a teacher that has been doing this a long time and still holds that passion to work with kids.”
Darrell Potts, West Learning Community
Darrell Potts is a world history teacher at West Mecklenburg High off Tuckaseegee Road, near Robert L. Smith District Park. Potts received his bachelor’s in history from Winston-Salem State University and a master’s in secondary social studies from UNC Charlotte.
Potts began his teaching career at CMS in 2008.
In addition to teaching leadership classes, Potts is also one of the school’s leaders of the Advancement Via Individual Determination program.
Lecia Shockley, Central Learning Community
Lecia Shockley is a second-grade teacher at Selwyn Elementary in Myers Park. Principal Shane Lis called her a phenomenal educator, who integrates arts with data and real-world experiences to teach “the whole child.”
Shockley received her bachelor’s in elementary education from UNC Charlotte and began her career in 1999 at Derita Elementary. She is also a teaching fellow of the Classroom Teachers Association.
This is the second year the school has had an outdoor garden thanks to Shockley’s involvement with Fuel Pizza’s “Field to Fork” program. “We put in four raised garden beds so students can learn about seed life-cycles first-hand,” Lis said. “She’s constantly an advocate for colleagues and best practices at the school.”
Shockley is also a proponent of parental involvement and making “home-to-school” connections, Lis said. She goes to each student’s home and reads a story to help encourage a relationship with the student. Shockley also holds at least one classroom dinner at an area restaurant that all students and their families are invited to, he said.
“She’s a shining example of the positive that comes from being a public servant,” Lis said.
“We very often don’t lump teachers together with policemen and firemen, but in my opinion, they’re not different. They’re out there serving the community, the only difference is the response of the community to the job itself.”
Kristin Ward, LIFT Learning Community
Kristin Ward teaches English and creative writing at West Charlotte High in northwest Charlotte, near West Charlotte Neighborhood Park. Principal Timisha Barnes-Jones said that Ward is set apart not just by her passion for students, but for education as a whole.
Ward received her bachelor’s in English and a master’s in educational leadership from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. She began her career in 2004 in Charlotte County, Fla.
While Ward is focused on student achievement, she builds authentic relationships with her classes and other teachers with a personality that “is extremely engaging,” Barnes-Jones said.
Ward often spends her weekends planning trips that will provide students with experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have, Barnes-Jones said. “She’s very collaborative and doesn’t mind working across content areas.
“She’s been a real catalyst for change here,” Barnes-Jones said of Ward, noting that other teachers often lean on her. “I can attribute a lot of our successes to things she’s contributed. … She’s a stellar teacher and an example for other teachers.
“We were talking about teacher pay, and Ward said, ‘It doesn’t matter. I’d still teach. … More pay would be great, but because I love kids, I will always be in education.’”
Emily Wegener, East Learning Community
Emily Wegener teaches kindergarten through fifth-grade special needs students at Albemarle Road Elementary in southeast Charlotte, near Albemarle Road Park. Principal Tyler Ream said Wegener works to ensure that a student’s disability doesn’t define them.
“As a society, we look at the disabilities kids have and wonder if they can achieve at a high level. She’s a reminder that they can do amazing things,” he said. “They may not be able to talk, but they’re still thinking and learning, communicating. … And Emily brings that out. She works every single day to ensure it’s not a limiting factor in their life, which I think is a pretty admirable thing to do.”
Wegener received her bachelor’s from Appalachian State University and her master’s in special education teaching from UNC Charlotte. She began her special education teaching career at CMS in 2007.
The students Wegener teaches have moderate to fairly profound disabilities, Ream said, but she “is a passionate advocate for ensuring those students have the access they need to resources, to quality education.”
Wegener also works to extend her reach beyond her own classroom with her involvement with Girls on the Run and an intramural program that has taught hundreds of kids how to swim, Ream said.
While many special education teachers can often become isolated – “They don’t do (lesson) planning with everyone else,” Ream said – Wegener embodies the “our kids” attitude to all students. “This person not only walks her talk, she serves her kids and others as well.”